The Self-Organization of Digital Volunteers across Social Media: The Case of the 2013 European Floods in Germany

Marc-André Kaufhold 1  and Christian Reuter 1
  • 1 Institute for Information Systems, University of Siegen
Marc-André Kaufhold and Christian Reuter

Abstract

For almost 15 years, social media have been regularly used during emergencies. One of the most recent, and instructive, examples of its widespread use during a large scale scenario in Europe were the 2013 European floods. Public reporting during the event indicated, and our analysis confirms, that Twitter, Facebook (FB), Google Maps and other services were frequently used by affected citizen and volunteers to coordinate help activities among themselves. We conducted a qualitative analysis of selected emergent volunteer communities in Germany on FB and Twitter among others, and subsequently conducted interviews with FB group founders and activists. Our aim was to analyze the use of social media during this particular event, especially by digital volunteers. Our study illustrates the relevance of social media for German citizens in cases of disaster, focusing especially on the role of the moderator. Our specific emphasis was the embedding of social media in the organizing work done by said volunteers, emphasizing both the patterns of social media use and the challenges that result. We show that different social media were used in different ways: Twitter was used in the main for status updates while FB-pages were mostly intended to provide an overview. FB-groups also coordinated a multitude of activities.

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